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When the chips are down...

Filed: Wednesday, 24th April 2013
By: Paul Walker

Well, we are almost there. And no, I refuse to accept that we are totally safe from the drop until the mathematics really do add up.

I know I am probably the only person now not prepared for a booze-up to celebrate our survival in the top flight, but some of us are still emotionally-scarred following our relegation in 2003 with 42 points, still a record and just where we are now.

But this is the time for assessment of our season. We are tenth, our highest placing since December, with us picking up 15 points from our last ten games, a season after winning promotion. It is really hard to argue against those stats and Samís management. I still recall with disgust the two points we took from our final nine games before inevitable relegation just two years ago.

What we now have is not a team of superstars, we cannot afford that, but we have a squad who behave like professionals, fight for themselves, the shirt and us. The team that should have beaten the new champions last week, cost just £24m, and that includes the £15m for Matt Jarvis and Kevin Nolan.

We have twice now almost beaten Manchester United this season at the Boleyn, and the six points we have taken from Chelsea, Manchester United, Manchester City and Liverpool will be the difference between staying up and a catastrophic relegation.

We had four free transfers, one loan striker, plus Gary OíNeil and Ricky Vaz Te - who cost under £3m the pair - on show against Man United and then Wigan. Frankly I am not sure Big Sam has to argue his corner any more, in the current financial climate, our current position is little short of miraculous.

Sam seems to have so many detractors, I saw the Mail on Sundayís Pat Collins was at it again recently, he really does hate our man. While Roberto Martinez was deluded enough to think Wigan are better than us. Possession is one thing, finishing quite another. Also bravery, team spirit, fight and desire.

So many people inside and outside the game, have a sneer on their face where we are concerned, they all seem to know better. Old Fergie was rattling on about the ball being in the air, but the stats showed Manchester United had more long passes than we did.

Everywhere we go, managers and players have that smug look about them, but we have beaten Swansea, West Brom and Fulham at our place, while drawing at Liverpool. Every one of those managers has suggested they were the better team. The same goes for Norwich, Stoke and Southampton. It gets boring, really.

Now Martinez is at it. The same man who said earlier in the season that he does not consider goals from set-pieces to be Ďrealí goals. What utter nonsense.

Barcelona had more than 60 per cent possession against Bayern Munich this week, and lost 4-0. The Germans are now being hailed as the best in Europe, but looked to be playing to a similar style to ourselves, if not with slightly more quality.

They had width, a big striker and players attacking from midfield, and the ball was shifted forward quickly. I love Barca, they are the best team I have ever seen, just better in my book that the Brazil of 1970. But they were over-powered by an intense pressing game. I know this is not the best comparison, because we are talking about football from different planets, ours and the Germans.

But sometimes a little praise is due rather than the easily scripted slagging that Sam always gets. He thinks that players' reputations suffer from being associated with him, and that's sad.

And we have seen all the right attributes from West Ham of late. To come from where we were under Avram Grant to our current position should silence all Samís detractors. The direct route to Andy Carroll is there, but also a lot of very decent football on the floor.

Sam keeps alluding to the safety of the 42 point mark, without being prepared for too much chat about his part in our downfall ten years ago when we had that exact total. And Sam masterminded a particularly nasty match at the Reebok that virtually sealed our fate.

Our current heroes Kevin Nolan and Jussi Jaaskelainen were in Samís Bolton side that day, April 19, when our world really fell in. We were beaten 1-0, Ian Pearce was sent-off and Joe Cole should have been for an end of match rage at anyone in sight.

There were plenty of rumours after that game about the dark arts employed by Bolton that day, claims at personal abuse about family and friends etc. Surely our Sam is not like that!

Two days later our then manager Glenn Roeder was in hospital with a brain tumour. Playing Bolton in those days did that to people.

By the end of the campaign we were third from bottom on 42 points, Bolton one place above on 44, so that miserable day in Bolton did for us. Iím tempted to say, all is forgiven Sam, but itís really hard.

But then as now, when the chips are down, you can rely on Sam. He saved Bolton that season, we went down with a squad that included the current manager of Sunderland, that is when Paolo Di Canio decided to turn up, of course. You recall he spent a long time back in Rome after falling out with Roeder and playing just six of the last 22 matches, the final few for the best manager we never had, Sir Trevor.

Maybe if Paolo had played a bit more that season, we wouldnít have gone down. But then he is still a hero in many peoplesí eyes. Probably not Roederís, though. Strange that.

Also in that squad was Michael Carrick, now with five Premier League winnersí medals and potentially a strong candidate for the Footballer of the Year award. Watching him on Monday night guiding Manchester United to their 20th title did make me wonder what might have been had we not gone down in 2003 and he was still with us.

The same applies to Jermain Defoe and Glen Johnson, also regulars like Carrick in the current England squad. Freddie Kanoute, David James, Trevor Sinclair as well as Cole were there, too. The best players, if not the best team, to ever go down.

Well, we have been down that íwhat might have beení road a few times since. Now we have a different team - to my mind probably not as good individually as the 2003 vintage - to acclaim. And acclaim we should.

Yes, apart from a total disaster, we are safe. Saturdayís 2-0 win over Wigan and Man Utdís defeat of Aston Villa has seen to that. Villa and Wigan can get to 46 point maximums, but thatís not possible for both with the pair playing each other on the final day. And even I will admit that neither side is going to win every other game left now. So, yes, we are safe.

And that, just like Bolton felt a decade ago, is down to Big Sam. Love him or hate him, he does what is written on the tin.

A couple of anniversaries are coming up. Grantís sacking will be two years ago on May 15. I recall being part of the Irons army trooping back through Manchester Piccadilly that day after the debacle of relegation at Wigan, and hearing the cheers from all around that station when news filtered through about the old fraudís sacking.

Then, of course, we have Samís second anniversary on June 1. Itís hard to believe he has been with us for less than two years. And just look at us now.

He arrived when the place was a shambles. Nolan has talked recently of the club being on its knees with people not wanting to be here, and the damaging factions that dominated a humiliated dressing room.

Our owners decided to continue paying Premier League wages if not transfer fees, and Sam galvanised us away from a disaster of Wolves, Blackburn or Blackpool proportions. Just look where our former Premier League rivals are now. That could have been us without a firm hand, good organisation and experience.

I embarked on this season with trepidation. We had a team of free transfers, Championship quality players with many having injury histories to frighten anyone. I doubted Samís reliance on controversial agent Mark Curtis, still do. But itís three Curtis clients - Nolan, Andy Carroll and Matt Jarvis - who have all played a huge part in our survival.

And you only have too look at the contributions of Samís Bolton old boys, Jaaskelainen, Joey OĎBrien, Ricky Vaz Te and Matt Taylor, to know he was right to bring them here.

Guy Demel has seemingly got over his injury problems and produced outstanding performances, Winston Reid - who I felt was a disaster in his first season in the top flight - has improved out of all recognition.

And what a buy James Collins was. He also has had injury nightmares to overcome but has been wonderful at the back. I saw somewhere a stat that says he has made more blocks in the box than any other player in the top flight this season, that says it all.

Collins has played 26 times this season, which is a miracle considering his injury record here in his first spell and at Aston Villa. What would they give for Ginge to be in their defence at the moment?

Frankly, Sam put together a squad by Premier League standards that was as cheap as chips. We now go to fallen champions Manchester City on Saturday with little real pressure. It will be nice to see Carlos again.

We probably will only get another three points this term, surely Reading will be finished by then. And just remember they went up taking the mickey out of us as champions. How the mighty have fallen.

Now we are about to see Sam sign a new contract, and a summer of wheeler-dealing being triggered. He wants Carroll and will have to use all his influence to get him. He has explained the new fair play regulations well, they are designed to protect the rich and make it impossible for the rest of us to try to aspire to that level.

Iíd like to be a fly on the wall in chats between our owners, the Davids, and Sam. Gold and Sullivan want the new regulations because it will hold down wages (Iíve never worked for a boss anywhere who felt differently.) But Sam doesnít agree because he is being restricted. It should be an interesting summer.

As for cheap chipsÖ my match-going pals have given me massive stick for refusing to pay nearly £9 for two bowls of chips in a Plaistow pub last weekend. I stomped away in a huff, forgetting that one bowl was for a young lad in a our party. Starving, he was.

Iím sure his dad, from the richer, posher end of Surrey, will understand when I suggest, from 200 miles away, to í let him eat cake.í

Big Sam, I suspect, will want his cake and eat it, in the summer transfer market. And I would not be shocked to see Carroll still here next season. But for now, Sam and our team deserve praise for what has been achieved in lest than two years. Pretty or not.

Please note that the opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, nor should be attributed to, KUMB.com.

Your Comments

by HammerP
10:11AM 25th Apr 2013
''Couldn't agree more. If anybody had told me when Sam came that he would get us up and keep us up in his first two seasons, I would have bitten their handoff. Apparently, according to the stats, we are 5th in the long ball league, but you never seem to hear anything about the four teams above us (BTW Newcastle are top).

I was not excited when Sam joined us, but he has won me around. I think he has done a brilliant job in turning the club around so quickly. The team are a real team, and clearly love playing for Sam. We look harder to beat than for a very long time. We just need another top striker, alongside Carroll to ensure more goals next season. And much credit to the David's for giving Sam the job, backing him, and staying relatively quiet, even when things weren't going so well.

I really believe that Sam, given a little money to spend can establish us back in the Premiership, and even challenge for a top 6 finish. ''

by Neil Triphook
09:07AM 25th Apr 2013
''Good article mate, covers it all really
C O Y I.''

by Neil C
06:49AM 25th Apr 2013
''Great article, could not have said it better myself. Big Sam should be receiving thanks and praise indeed for his achievements in such a short space of time. It really should be "Sam Allardyce's claret and blue army".''

by Alby
01:44AM 25th Apr 2013
''Great article Paul. Villa or Wigan only need to draw (or lose) one game (except the game against each other) to gain a maximum of 42 points - with our +20 goal difference, we're as safe as houses - there's also the matter of all the other sides below us who have to play each other or teams vying for euro spots. I'd suggest 38 pts is the safety zone.''

by ben
09:44PM 24th Apr 2013
''great read, thanks. I agree with everything said.''

by Roy the Hammer..
07:00PM 24th Apr 2013
''Good post mate... My thoughts exactly. Get in teams' faces, get results, move forward. New stadium coming, improve each year and hope the football gets nicer to watch. As a lifelong Hammer I feel real pride in this team. No one comes to UP anymore thinking this is three points. Every team has to fight for every ball and if Red Nose Fergie moans about poor Vidic getting bruised, GOOD. They have been indulging in rough stuff for years.''

by Stephen e Kent
06:15PM 24th Apr 2013
''Great piece, I knew that Alladyce would do a good job, if given a chance by all. As for critism, unfortunately comes with the territory. We still hate the Germans but they are not all nazi's are they? The point I mean is mud sticks, he had Okacha at Bolton with Djorkaeff and they weren't long ball merchants either. Diame's goal at Man U was as good as a football goal as you will see, it never rose above 2 ft within the play. We do play long but we play short as well. And a small thought goes to David Beckham who was a great crosser, like Jarvis, and has he ever played for a team labelled long ball, No! So why are we labelled. Play to your strengths we were taught at school. West Ham's strength is their strength so carry on playing that way. Build it and they will come......bring on next season....''

by John
05:44PM 24th Apr 2013
''Since everyone like sheep jumped on the band wagon of Allardyce and the long ball I have been checking all the match stats and surprisingly in most games even against the so called on the ground teams we appear to use the long ball less than our rivals.''

by MJ
05:33PM 24th Apr 2013
''Hear hear! Great article. COYI!!''

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